Candidates who want to run for Minneapolis mayor may have to pay a higher fee to enter the race. The city's Charter Commission is proposing a filing fee of $250, up from $20. City staff say the move will weed out "frivolous candidates," but critics call it undemocratic.
The current $20 filing fee applies to candidates for all city offices from mayor on down to the Board of Estimate and Taxation. The fee has been in place since 1967. But four years ago, the city started using ranked-choice voting in its municipal elections.
Under the ranked-choice system there is no primary election to narrow the field. All of the candidates appear on the November ballot, and voters may rank up to three choices for each office.
City Clerk Casey Carl said the low filing fee could lead to a lengthy, multi-page ballot, which he argues could confuse voters and cause administrative headaches.
"It causes costs for a second page of a ballot. It causes administrative costs to process not just one page, but two pages," Carl said. "There's a question of whether or not voters would potentially abandon a second ballot page in the polling place. You know, fill out one and think, 'I'm done' and cast it, and then there's a second ballot page that they didn't fill out.
"Did they complete their ballot? Is that an error? How do we handle that?"
The city managed to squeeze all the races onto one page in 2009. But the upcoming mayoral election is the first time in a generation there will be an open seat for the office. There are already at least six credible candidates running. And typically in any given election year there are ten or so long-shot candidates who will register to run.
But it's wrong to try to exclude those candidates, Charter Commissioner Dan Cohen said. At the commission's meeting Wednesday night, Cohen sang the praises of Dick Franson, who claims he has run for office in Minnesota a staggering 26 times.
"We need people like Dick Franson to run for office. They may not be likely to win, but they serve a very useful purpose. They help kind of regulate and push against the overreaching of major-party candidates," Cohen said. "And it's just possible that one day they might catch lighting in a bottle, and actually capture the public imagination and win an election."
City staff had proposed raising the filing fee to $500 for mayor, which is what St. Paul did a couple of years ago. The commission instead voted for a $250 filing fee. They also recommended increases to filing fees to campaign for other city offices. City Council candidates would pay $100. Running for the park board would cost $50. And the commission added a provision that would adjust the fees for inflation in the future.
Commissioner Todd Ferrara doubts the higher price will be a hardship.
"Somebody who's running for city council or mayor, the fee is going to be a very minor threshold of consideration when it comes to running for elective office," Ferrara said.
With the Charter Commission's endorsement of the fee hike, the proposal will go before the City Council. Because it is a charter amendment, the proposal needs unanimous council support to pass. That means any council member may veto it.
Given that three council members are running for mayor, Commissioner Devin Rice predicts at least one council member will do just that.
"I would be surprised if council members Shiff, Samuels and Hodges advance this measure," Rice said. "If I were a candidate for mayor, I wouldn't want to go on record discouraging anyone to run for office."
Even if the council raises filing fees, candidates have another way to get their names on the ballot. State law allows them to collect signatures instead of money. To run for mayor, a hopeful candidate would need 500 people to sign their petition.